Are the Democrats Really Ready for Hillary?
Republicans have been running on Ronald Reagan's legacy for years. Now that Hillary Clinton has announced, to virtually no one's surprise, for president, it will once again be time for the Democrats to grapple with Bill Clinton's.
Bill Clinton, like Reagan, was a president whose tenure was associated with peace and prosperity. The Clintons are both broadly popular among liberal Democrats, but they are not as widely admired as Reagan is on the right.
There is a lot of evidence for Bill Clinton's complicated legacy on the left: the number of voters who defected from Al Gore to Ralph Nader in 2000; Howard Dean's 2004 campaign representing the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party"; the rise of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's defeat in the 2008 primaries.
Hillary was part of Obama's "team of rivals" when she served as secretary of state during his first term. Bill has at times been an almost uncomfortably close surrogate for the current president. But Obama seems to pride himself on how unlike Clinton he can be.
Consider Obama's reaction to his party's defeat in not just one, but two midterm elections. Where Bill Clinton reacted to 1994 by moving to the center, practicing triangulation and ultimately signing welfare reform, Obama has barely budged. In fact, Obama seemed almost emboldened by the Republican takeover of the Senate after the 2014 elections.
When the Clinton health-care plan—an initiative that was more Hillary than Bill—looked like it was going to doom Democrats, the Clintons eventually dropped it. Democrats lost control of Congress anyway.
Obamacare cost Democrats the House in 2010, and it is still arguably a net negative for the party five years later, but Obama never considered bailing on his signature domestic initiative—which was far more a congressional creation than Hillarycare—in order to save the Democrats' majorities.
And the current occupant of the White House has a case to make. Obama, like Bill Clinton, is going to serve out the rest of his presidency with a Republican Congress. But Obama has a national health-care law to show for his troubles, and Bill Clinton didn't.
Obama said as much himself when then White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, a Clinton veteran, by his own account, "begged" the president to scale back his health-care ambitions to limit the political backlash. "This is about whether we're going to get big things done," Obama replied, setting up an unmistakable shot at the Clintons. "I wasn't sent here to do school uniforms."
What does any of this have to do with Hillary? First, the main thing Hillary is reportedly going to do to distance herself from Obama is say she's a Democrat who can "get shit done."
While I might describe Obamacare using that particular expletive myself, the bottom line is that the biggest thing that both Hillary and Obama tried to do actually got done under Obama, not the other way around.
Second, while Hillary is a garden-variety liberal, the Democratic Leadership Council baggage she shares with her husband contributes to a lack of progressive enthusiasm for her candidacy, at least as compared with, again, Obama.
While there were genuine centrists and conservatives involved in the DLC, the Clintonite New Democrat project wasn't primarily about centrism or relative conservatism. It was about adapting to the Democratic Party's enduring political weaknesses during the 1980s and '90s.
Although Hillary Clinton has evolved from her anti-Vietnam protesting days into an authentic liberal hawk, her vote for the Iraq war—which more than anything else doomed her 2008 campaign—was motivated at least in part by the fact that perceived foreign-policy wimpiness was a major Democratic liability that DLC types intended to fix.
This time around, there is nobody on the horizon as well positioned to exploit Hillary's vulnerabilities. None of the Democrats talked about as potential Clinton challengers have Obama's talents or appeal to black voters, not even Elizabeth Warren. So, barring some unforeseen disaster, such as the email scandal getting markedly worse, the Democrats are probably stuck with her this time.
But are they ready for Hillary?
W. James Antle III is managing editor of the Daily Caller and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? He tweets at @jimantle.